In Europe, cities are home to over 70% of the population and they centralise the bigger part of its economic activity and growth. Cities are heavily dependent on external resources to meet the demands of their citizens for food and energy for instance. It is also in cities where most goods are consumed generating large volumes of waste. Urban authorities therefore provide the ideal context for the development of the circular economy thanks to their close proximity to their inhabitants, service providers, and businesses.
Another important priority stated by the action plan concerns water reuse. Water scarcity and droughts have worsened in some parts of the EU in recent decades, with damaging effects on our environment and economy. Climate change projections point to a worsening situation as regards water availability in various parts of Europe. In addition to water-efficiency measures, the reuse of treated wastewater in safe and cost-effective conditions is a valuable means of increasing water supply and alleviating pressure on over-exploited water resources in the EU.
Urban authorities have a solid experience in providing sustainable waste management as a service of general interest. Cities can also drive the change towards more sustainable modes of production and consumption, including the untapped potential of water reuse. Adapting to the circular economy will require a qualified workforce with specific and sometimes new skills (especially in design) creating new employment opportunities and social dialogue. It will stimulate the creation of new businesses (including social enterprises) and business models as well as encourage cooperation between manufacturers and retailers to produce more durable, reparable and recyclable products.
Without being prescriptive in terms of the types of projects expected, cities are invited to consider in particular the following themes and issues:
- Cooperation with local manufacturers and retailers or citizen-led initiatives and third sector/social enterprises as a good way to promote more durable, reparable and recyclable products.
- Supporting industrial symbiosis would allow cooperation between businesses and the utilisation of surplus resources generated by industry.
- Cities can influence consumption patterns through the encouragement of re-use and repair.
- Promotion of a collaborative economy which shares products or infrastructure would see citizens and businesses consuming services rather than products.
- Tools such as Green Public Procurement and Public Procurement of Innovation with criteria developed by public authorities can ensure that the sustainability, durability and reparability when setting out or revising criteria.
- Improving the management of municipal waste representing 10% of the total waste stream in Europe.
- Prevention of food waste (100 million tonnes wasted annually) along the value chain by taking different steps including changing behaviours through awareness raising campaigns. Further development of urban composting systems, linked to urban farming and hydroponics projects.
- The recycle or re-use of materials from construction and demolition projects, one of the biggest sources of waste in Europe and many of which take place in cities.
- Waste from electrical and electronic equipment such as mobiles, TVs and washing machines of which high numbers are concentrated in cities is expected to reach 12 million tonnes by 2020. Cities struggle to manage this type of waste but could play a key role in recycling and re-using the rare earth materials and precious metals they include, reducing the dependence on importing them.
- Promote water reuse (e.g. rainwater harvesting), as a measure to address water scarcity and droughts.
- Contribute to measurable and replicable resource-efficiency solutions by documenting baseline use and progress observed, through standard indicators and appropriate data collection, formats and sharing and publishing rules.
- Ensure that any solution adopted to handle data is interoperable and based on open standards.
In order to make a transition to the circular economy a reality, the European Commission expects urban authorities to involve all stakeholders from the design of products to its re-use benefiting both the economy and the environment including the participation of citizens and communities.